Many people undergo surgical operations during their life-time, which result in surgical wounds. After an operation the incision is closed using stiches, staples, steri-strips or an adhesive glue. Usually, towards the end of the surgical procedure and before the patient leaves the operating theatre, the surgeon covers the closed surgical wound using gauze and adhesive tape or an adhesive tape containing a pad (a wound dressing) that covers the surgical wound. There is currently no guidance about when the wound can be made wet by post-operative bathing or showering. Early bathing may encourage early mobilisation of the patient, which is good after most types of operation. Avoiding post-operative bathing or showering for two to three days may result in accumulation of sweat and dirt on the body. Conversely, early washing of the surgical wound may have an adverse effect on healing, for example by irritating or macerating the wound, and disturbing the healing environment.
To compare the benefits (such as potential improvements to quality of life) and harms (potentially increased wound-related morbidity) of early post-operative bathing or showering (i.e. within 48 hours after surgery, the period during which epithelialisation of the wound occurs) compared with delayed post-operative bathing or showering (i.e. no bathing or showering for over 48 hours after surgery) in patients with closed surgical wounds.
We searched The Cochrane Wounds Group Specialised Register;The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library); The Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE) (The Cochrane Library); Ovid MEDLINE; Ovid MEDLINE (In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations); Ovid EMBASE; EBSCO CINAHL; the metaRegister of Controlled Trials (mRCT) and the International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP).
We considered all randomised trials conducted in patients who had undergone any surgical procedure and had surgical closure of their wounds, irrespective of the location of the wound and whether or not the wound was dressed. We excluded trials if they included patients with contaminated, dirty or infected wounds and those that included open wounds. We also excluded quasi-randomised trials, cohort studies and case-control studies.
Data collection and analysis
We extracted data on the characteristics of the patients included in the trials, risk of bias in the trials and outcomes from each trial. For binary outcomes, we calculated the risk ratio (RR) with 95% confidence interval (CI). For continuous variables we planned to calculate the mean difference (MD), or standardised mean difference (SMD) with 95% CI. For count data outcomes, we planned to calculate the rate ratio (RaR) with 95% CI. We used RevMan 5 software for performing these calculations.
Only one trial was identified for inclusion in this review. This trial was at a high risk of bias. This trial included 857 patients undergoing minor skin excision surgery in the primary care setting. The wounds were sutured after the excision. Patients were randomised to early post-operative bathing (dressing to be removed after 12 hours and normal bathing resumed) (n = 415) or delayed post-operative bathing (dressing to be retained for at least 48 hours before removal and resumption of normal bathing) (n = 442). The only outcome of interest reported in this trial was surgical site infection (SSI). There was no statistically significant difference in the proportion of patients who developed SSIs between the two groups (857 patients; RR 0.96; 95% CI 0.62 to 1.48). The proportions of patients who developed SSIs were 8.5% in the early bathing group and 8.8% in the delayed bathing group.
There is currently no conclusive evidence available from randomised trials regarding the benefits or harms of early versus delayed post-operative showering or bathing for the prevention of wound complications, as the confidence intervals around the point estimate are wide, and, therefore, a clinically significant increase or decrease in SSI by early post-operative bathing cannot be ruled out. We recommend running further randomised controlled trials to compare early versus delayed post-operative showering or bathing.